The little yellow house : before

The house stood abandoned for close to a year. I grew weirdly attached to it. Protective of it, even.

Eventually, my curiosity led me ’round back, where both basement doors gaped open. I went in. On one side: hanks of rope, a stack of used lumber, and drawers full of old rolls of tape, bits of pipe, bolts and screws. Had the former man of the house been a plumber or were these the useful supplies that a handier, more self-reliant generation typically collected?

The cellar’s other side contained more personal items: a map of Italy, a metal wardrobe full of cloth, plates, a bundt pan, a crucifix. Or maybe, they were just more feminine. Next to a support-pillar, an open lawn chair by a shelf with clock and ashtrays spoke to retreat. A plumber who smoked?


I didn’t go upstairs until the second trespass. It was truly weird. The place looked as though someone had hurried out to a movie and would be back any minute. It certainly didn’t look like the house of someone who had died. Weren’t there children?

An umbrella tipped against the wall near the front door. The mantel populated with mementos. Sunlight flooding a dining room table, the hutch in the corner full of figurines and exactly the kind of coffee pot my sister had recently described. She wanted one.


The spooky impress of lives led and then gone. A shrine without a caretaker. A structure needing to be emptied and cleansed and no one to do it.

Yesterday, the postman told me that there were children — “the son was really weird.” He called the former inhabitant “one of the old Italian hold outs” — but I already knew that.

Week after week, Finn and I passed the house — its neglect and imminent demise notable.

Why wasn’t I taking anything? There were pots and pans! Crystal candy dishes! Hardware, blankets, linens and chairs! Shouldn’t I leave a note at the very least and offer to box stuff up and donate it?

Even after the fence went up (signaling the onset of demolition), I kept my hands off policy going. Maybe it was sheer inertia. But part of me began to think that burial in a pile of rubble might be a fitting end for these belongings. Dignified, even. Besides, weren’t my attics and cellars full? Didn’t I have piles of my own shit to box up and donate?

This week the excavator was delivered and with it, a sense of urgency. Time was nearly up! I snuck through the fence and went in for a third and final visit, this time all the way up to the bedroom level. It was eerie and sad. A radio next to a couch, both forlorn. One can imagine someone with the window cracked open to the sounds of summer listening to a Red Sox game.

This time I did take a few objects: two mixing bowls, a plate, four woven potholders, that glass percolator, and a few items from a hardware drawer.




Turns out, you can tear down a house in under an hour. Finn and I stood and bore witness in the bitter cold. More on that with the next post.

40 thoughts on “The little yellow house : before

  1. Michael

    Interesting, and brave of you to explore it! There was an abandoned house in the neighborhood I lived last winter that I was always curious about, but it seemed securely locked.

    Reply
  2. ravenandsparrow

    It seems so eerie and sad that in this age of sky-high housing costs this house should be abandoned in this way. There was an empty house in my old Seattle neighborhood that gave me the creeps. All around it the process of gentrification changed even modest post-war crackerboxes into carefully groomed little jewels, while this older, larger house rotted in their midst. Watching it crumble made me imagine sad stories of family dysfunction, loneliness and despair. Abandoned houses are shrieking metaphors for abandoned lives and unloved people…. It didn’t last, of course. The house met the same fate as the yellow house because Seattle real estate is like gold. I’m glad you rescued a few items before the devastation. They are tiny fragile filaments of memory still flickering even though no one can hear their story.

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      In my town real estate is such that people might shell out $699k for a property, tear down the house, and then build a McMansion — pushing set back and foot print rules through variances and often violating (ahem — in my humble opinion) the boundaries of taste. It’s all about getting into a neighborhood with good schools and solid house values. It’s a lot about money, too. But in the case of such utter abandonment and disregard for the tokens of a couple’s lifetime together, the house spoke more to (as you put it), “dysfunction, loneliness and despair.” When I went back last night after it was mostly torn down, the yard smelled. It was as if the house had exhaled, had a death rattle. It wasn’t a bad smell, and not even an old person house smell, but definitely a human smell. It just added to the mystique.

      Reply
  3. bchabot2144

    Can’t believe it was bulldozed with all the belongings inside. Such a shame. I think you were fine to have rescued a few usable items, and thank you — and Finn — from the universe, for bearing witness.

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      Tomorrow I will post video footage of the excavator at work. I’ll admit to being utterly fascinated by the process in a way that was strangely devoid of sentiment

      Reply
  4. Liz A

    The coffee pot … like the one my parents used to my mom’s dying day. Hold your finger over the stem end while spooning in the coffee. Fill with water to the line below the steel band and be sure to twist the top on so the flanges catch beneath the rim. Bring to a perc on high, turn down to medium and let it continue to perc for seven minutes, then turn down low to keep it scalding hot. So long ago, my mom ten years gone … and still I remember.

    How did it come to this? That everything is considered disposable, even whole houses? That “tear-down” has become a part of the lexicon? And yet, even when hauled to the thrift store, so much stuff is unwanted, unneeded … eventually sent to the landfill. How many would even know what to do with such a pot? Or choose to use it?

    I’m glad you witnessed this for us … this 21st-century tragedy. Glad you salvaged the bits you did, even as I wished it could have been more. And then, even knowing where it would end, I gasped at the final image.

    Metaphor …

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      I’m so glad to have those instructions for coffee prep. My mother had a compact metal one (aluminum?) with a glass perc cap. I’ve never made coffee in one of these and neither has my sister that I know of, so thank you! Your instructions read like memoir.

      Yes, the destruction and waste is truly stunning. Just stunning.

      Reply
      1. Liz A

        I can hear the rattle of glass-on-glass as the lid is tipped in, then rotated. And I wonder … was there such deep, deep pain in the children that they needed to see memories like this buried and gone?

        Reply
      2. deb

        I found those same instructions somewhere online. Now to find the right coffee. What I have left from the old coffeemaker isn’t working.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous

      I wanted you to write that you had put in a bid for it, that you would make it livable while maintaining its integrity, and I too, can not believe that it was destroyed with all inside, the umbrella, table and chair, ropes. I have such feelings about this

      Can you investigate? Who were they? What was/is their story????

      Reply
        1. deemallon Post author

          Oh hi Grace. I actually figured that it was you, but nice to have it confirmed. I ended up regretting not salvaging more of the items out of the house.

      1. deemallon Post author

        I can ask the postman for the last name again and at city hall find the bare narrative of sales and purchases. Until talking to Tony, I’d assumed the children were far away and was very surprised to find that they were not.

        Reply
  5. Joanne

    Deb has such a glass pot and it even has a role in her book. I was reading and hoping you would be able to rescue a few items— so happy you went one last time.

    Reply
  6. Mo Crow

    ah gentrification is rife & our generations has driven it with the desire to move back into the inner cities that our parents generation abandoned for the suburbs in the 50’s and 60’s, our crumbling old lady of a house would sell for a cool million tomorrow as a tear down but the landlady isn’t ready to sell just yet, thank goodness! Having no dependents I imagine all my stuff eventually ending up in the op shop (aka thrift shop in the US)

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      Well even those of us with children won’t necessarily be passing much on. I’ve seen many essays about millennials having little or no interest in the family china or silver or… or… or…

      Reply
  7. Ginny

    Oh I wish I lived closer! I would have been in there in a second with a carton to fill up! What a shame all those tchotkes gone. I liked the little prayers girls from back when a prayer was a prayer. I would have taken that little ashtray next to the chair too. Sweet.

    I have souvenirs from places I have snuck into myself, or those estate sales where at the end of the day the leftovers hit the trash bin. Sometimes you can feel the ghosts through those little trinkets. Not sure why I am game to chat with the ghosts but sometimes they are more appealing than the living. I suppose it is fitting they are all buried together. I’m sure one day my pile of stuff will face the same end. The coffee pot is a find. I LOVE them. I just burned up my last one and had to replace it on ebay for $35. Tell Nor to be careful, if they are on the burner and run out of water or are empty they crack apart really quick. The outer pot is easier to replace than the insides. Best coffee ever.

    So glad you braved it and went inside!

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      Well maybe only my sister’s aid should use the pot to brew coffee given how hard it is for Nor to get up.

      I am a great “picker” too — I love my curbside finds and generally don’t give a second thought to the energies of these things. That’s part of why my reluctance in this case was so aberrant. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out. But walking by the place just now,
      cleared of even the rubble, I pictured an alternate past where I pulled the car up to the curb, flipped open the trunk and loaded
      ‘er up!

      Reply
  8. Delilah Christensen

    Thank you for this little journey. It’s quite moving I think. It’s about someone’s life. But also about us. We accumulate our treasures and then we are gone. You bear witness to both. Lili

    On Wednesday, December 12, 2018, Pattern and Outrage wrote:

    > deemallon posted: ” The house stood abandoned for close to a year. I grew > weirdly attached to it. Protective of it, even. Eventually, my curiosity > led me ’round back, where both basement doors gaped open. I went in. On one > side: hanks of rope, a stack of used lumber, and ” >

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      Hi Lili! The questions about what we collection in life and what’s left when we’re gone are poignant and central somehow to being human.

      Reply
  9. Ginny

    The ghosts are still there saying WTF!?!? We have lots of leveled lots with new McMansions on top. There was one across the street that was leveled but then they ran out of money to rebuild( ’09 ish. ) Lived in the basement for a year before they tanked. The basement was little more than a hole in the ground that projected light at night. Wayyy creepy. We still call it the ghost house even though it’s a mega house now. CraZy what we throw aside.

    Anyway that was the long way to say that the best coffee for that pot is Melita classic blend. Delish.

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      Ooh the Cellar People. Sounds very weird and creepy. Thanks for the coffee recommendation. Went over again this evening and it is rubble.

      Reply
  10. Nancy

    Oh man. My heart kinda froze at the last pic. All that life buried, becoming rubble. Like the homes burned up North, just gone. I would have taken those ‘flower’ hose spigots. I have a thing for those things. I just gave my mixing bowls like those to an antique store. I know you will give these things a nice home. xo

    Reply
  11. Michelle Skater

    YOU ENTERED into the mystery of the lives lived in that house. In your way, you honored them by being the last one to visit. Maybe the last one who understood the difference between ‘home’ and ‘property’. We live in an age it seems, wherein we value the illusion that we can simply erase the past, tear it down, bury it under a vision of the future where bigger is better, new is nicer and onward the battle cry.

    Reply
  12. Tina

    Loved your pictures and descriptions .. big wow! All the great comments that followed. So many unanswered questions that have sent my imagination into a frenzy. So happy you saved some if its history.

    Reply
  13. Jen

    My 87 yr old mother keeps pointing out things that must stay in the family, and I don’t really want the responsibility of being custodian to much more than the dresser and bed that came to MO from VA on a covered wagon. Am unsure whether any of the grand kids will want any of her things, or will share the burden of keeping things “in the family”, particularly when they aren’t familiar things like they’ve been to me and my brother. It seems that each generation becomes further removed from the belongings of their fore-fathers. Maybe millennials will be less likely to accumulate so much stuff, thus easing the burden on their children, grandchildren, great…

    Reply
    1. deemallon Post author

      I’ve read essays about millennials being less inclined to have a lot of material goods… I view that as a good thing, but it doesn’t solve your mother’s problem, or ours — with a house full of stuff!

      Reply

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